Earlier this year an open letter appeared online, which was signed by many important scientists and business men, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, which called for building in security measures into the artificial intelligence systems which are being developed. There is a good reason for that, because the developments are going quickly, especially when a company like Google is investing in it. The first steps are already being made with self driving cars and personal assistants on your phone like Siri, Cortana and Google Now, but it is not hard to imagine that in our own lifetime we will see ourselves conversing with artificial intelligence which feel like real people. The movie Her managed to show the romantic side of that, in which someone fell in love with such a system. Ex Machina shows another side of it.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works for the biggest search engine in the world, Bluebook and has won a competition for which he will be allowed to visit the CEO of the company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan is extremely wealthy and has built his house hours away (by plane) from the rest of the world. In his house he has a research lab where he develops all sorts of things. Caleb is flown in and, after signing an NDA, that he will not only be allowed to meet Nathan, but also be the first one to test his latest invention.
That invention is called Ava (Alicia Vikander): artificial intelligence, which exists within an advanced robot body with a realistically human looking face. It is up to Caleb to see if she passes the Turing-test, where a person isn’t able to tell if the other is a human or not. He gets to know her a lot better, just like the eccentric Nathan. As he starts asking more questions he starts wondering if Nathan’s motivation really is pure. His conversations with Ava keep becoming more personal and he starts to feel something for her. She provides him with information he isn’t getting from Nathan, but who can he believe and what choices does he need to make?
Director Alex Garland really impresses with his first film. The beautiful location and perfectly furnished environment make you focus on the three most important characters and their interaction. The three actors play those characters are fantastic and Oscar Isaac once again shows that he’s an actor you should keep your eye on. But also Alicia Vikander is convincing and gives the robot a humanity which makes you understand why Caleb would feel something for her.
Ava’s design is beautifully realised, without it ever looking flashy. It make Ex Machina a fascinating, smart science fiction film which offers enough material to talk about afterwards. The thing which stood out most for me is the remark made by Nathan, who says that artificial intelligence eventually will see us a useless fossils. With that in the back of your mind you understand that open letter a lot better.